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Global infertility and the globalization of new reproductive technologies: illustrations from Egypt


  • Inhorn, Marcia C.


Infertility is a problem of global proportions, affecting on average 8-12 percent of couples worldwide. In some societies, however--particularly those in the "infertility belt" of sub-Saharan Africa--as many as one-third of all couples are unable to conceive. Factors causing high rates of tubal infertility in parts of the developing world include sexually transmitted, postpartum, and postabortion infections; however, male infertility, which is rarely acknowledged, contributes to more than half of all cases. Unfortunately, the new reproductive technologies (NRTs) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), which are prohibitively expensive and difficult to implement in many parts of the developing world, represent the only solution to most cases of tubal and male infertility. Not surprisingly, these technologies are rapidly globalizing to pronatalist developing societies, where children are highly desired, parenthood is culturally mandatory, and childlessness socially unacceptable. Using Egypt as an illustrative case study, this paper examines five of the major forces fueling the global demand for NRTs; these include demographic and epidemiological factors, the fertility-infertility dialectic, problems in health care seeking, gendered suffering, and adoption restrictions. Following this overview, a detailed examination of the implications of the rapid global spread of NRTs to the developing world will be offered. By focusing on Egypt, where nearly 40 IVF centers are in operation, this article will demonstrate the considerable constraints on the practice and utilization of NRTs in a developing country on the "receiving end" of global reproductive technology transfer. The article concludes by stressing the need for primary prevention of infections leading to infertility, thereby reducing global reliance on NRTs.

Suggested Citation

  • Inhorn, Marcia C., 2003. "Global infertility and the globalization of new reproductive technologies: illustrations from Egypt," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 56(9), pages 1837-1851, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:56:y:2003:i:9:p:1837-1851

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    Cited by:

    1. Yount, Kathryn M. & Dijkerman, Sally & Zureick-Brown, Sarah & VanderEnde, Kristin E., 2014. "Women's empowerment and generalized anxiety in Minya, Egypt," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 185-193.
    2. Maya Sabatello, 2015. "Regulating Gamete Donation in the U.S.: Ethical, Legal and Social Implications," Laws, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 4(3), pages 1-25, July.
    3. Wolf, Meike, 2015. "Is there really such a thing as “one health”? Thinking about a more than human world from the perspective of cultural anthropology," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 5-11.
    4. Hough, Carolyn A., 2010. "Loss in childbearing among Gambia's kanyalengs: Using a stratified reproduction framework to expand the scope of sexual and reproductive health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 71(10), pages 1757-1763, November.
    5. repec:eee:touman:v:32:y:2011:i:6:p:1431-1434 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Gooldin, Sigal, 2013. "‘Emotional rights’, moral reasoning, and Jewish–Arab alliances in the regulation of in-vitro-fertilization in Israel: Theorizing the unexpected consequences of assisted reproductive technologies," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 83(C), pages 90-98.


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